How higher education fared in N.C.’s House budget proposal

The N.C. House of Representatives released portions of its budget Thursday, and included several significant changes and some cuts for public higher education.

UNCsystemThe entire budget – which is expected to fill in gaps about whether raises are in store for state employees and teachers – is expected to be released Monday, and voted on by the Republican-led House that week.

Senate Republican leaders have not announced when their version of the budget will be done.

Several significant changes were trotted out by House budget writers this week for the state’s public higher education system.

The House did fund expected growth in the system but also calls for $44.3 million over the next two years in management cuts and would roll out a program that would push academically weak college students into a community college program before gaining entry into the state’s four-year universities.

Drew Moretz, the University of North Carolina system’s vice-president for government affairs, said the House calls for fewer cuts than what Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget proposed.

“It’s a better starting point than what the governor had given us,” Moretz said.

The system as a whole has had $658 million in management cuts since 2008-09, he said.

The House budget would also, for the first time, allow low-income students to get scholarships to virtually attend Western Governors University, an online education program that’s been touted as a low-cost education option by groups like the conservative John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

House lawmakers also want to delay more than 1,000 prospective students from attending the state’s public universities by requiring the UNC system to defer admissions to students who meet admissions standards but don’t have strong academic histories

The “N.C. Guaranteed Admission Program “ would force at least 1,305 students to wait out their admissions at the state’s four-year university campuses, and instead first get an associate’s degree at a community college system. Those deferred students would then have guaranteed slots at four-year schools for their junior years.

House budget writers see the program as a net savings of $9.5 million in 2016-17 by sending the students to the lower-cost community college system, the first year the deferred admissions mandate would go into effect.

They also hope it would increase the six-year graduation rate in the state, which was 63.1 percent for the freshman class that began their studies in 2008.

University officials don’t want to see the deferred admission proposal adopted, Moretz said.

“We are not in favor of it,” Moretz said. “Students are better served when they’re being (academically) stretched.”

The university system already works closely with the community college system, and many students do opt to get a base of classes at the lower-cost community college system before transferring into the state’s four-year colleges and universities, he said.

But if students are conditionally accepted to the four-year public schools but told they first must go to a community college for two years, many may instead choose to attend high-cost private or for-profit colleges, a decision that could result in higher levels of student debt or a potentially subpar education, Moretz said.

The House education budget also would:

  • Provide $17 million to offer summer sessions in the state community college system for the 2016-17 school year.
  • Limit UNC campuses to spend $1 million of its state funding on fundraising efforts
  • Call for a total of $42 million over two years ($18 million in recurring cuts, as well as one-time cut of $8.1 million) with instructions to look for reductions in centers and institutes, speaker series, faculty workloads, senior and middle management positions and low-performing or low-enrollment programs
  • Add $16 million over the next two years to shore up the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University
  • Give $4 million in additional funding to Elizabeth City State University
  • Allow in-state tuition for veterans within three years of their discharge from the military
  • Begin a study of community college faculty pay

You can view the actual budget proposals here and here.

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